• From the Mixed-Up Files... > Giveaways > Interview with Ruth McNally Barshaw and Two Giveaways
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    January 27, 2014: And the Newbery Medal goes to ...
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    September 18, 2013: Vermont College of Fine Arts Scholarship opportunity

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    March 10, 2013: Marching to New Titles

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    Nick and Tesla's High-Voltages Danger Lab by Bob Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith

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    The Coretta Scott King Book Award went to Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men Who Changed America written by Andrea Davis Pinkney and illustrated by Brian Pinkney.

    The Laura Ingalls Wilder Award,which honors an author for his or her long-standing contributions to children’s literature, was presented to Katherine Paterson.

    The Pura Belpre Author Award, which honors a Latino author, went to Benjamin Alire Saenz for his novel Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, which was also named a Printz Honor book and won the Stonewall Book Award for its portrayal of the GLBT experience.

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    January 22, 2013: Biography Wins Sydney Taylor

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    January 17, 2013: Erdrich Wins Second O'Dell

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    For more...

     

    January 15, 2013: After the Call

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    January 2, 2013: On the Big Screen

    One of our Mixed-up Files members may be headed to the movies! Jennifer Nielsen's fantasy adventure novel The False Prince is being adapted for Paramount Pictures by Bryan Cogman, story editor for HBO's Game of Thrones. For more...

     

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Interview with Ruth McNally Barshaw and Two Giveaways

Giveaways, Interviews

I’m thrilled to share this amazing interview with Ruth McNally Barshaw, the author and illustrator of the popular Ellie McDoodle series.  Toward the bottom, you’ll see how two lucky readers can win a personalized Ellie book of their choice…and Ruth will even add some surprise sketches inside each book!

Here’s the Indiebound summary of the first sketch-filled book in this fun series: Ellie McDoodle: Have Pen, Will Travel.

Ellie McDougal (better known to her friends as Ellie McDoodle because she loves to draw) is a nearly-twelve-year-old prisoner . . . of her aunt, uncle, three annoying cousins, and her baby brother, Ben-Ben. Sentenced to a week-long camping trip with them while her parents are out of town, Ellie is absolutely, positively determined to hate every single minute of the experience. Thank goodness she at least has her sketch journal, in which she records all the excruciating (and okay, very funny) details. Mosquito bites and trips to the Fred Moose museum she can handle. But how will she keep her journal from falling into Er-ick the Enemy’s hands? And what will happen when–gasp–she actually starts having fun? Part graphic novel, part confessional journal, part wilderness survival guide, Ellie’s story is a treat for young campers, vacationers, or anyone looking for a great summer read.

Welcome to the Mixed-Up Files, Ruth.  Your Ellie McDoodle books are so much fun.  I love Ellie’s sketches, the humorous way she sees the world, and all the great games she shares with readers.  How did you come up with the idea for your series?

Photo of Ruth taken by Emily Barshaw, age 13

Thanks so much, Mindy! This is truly an honor.

Ellie McDoodle started as an essay about camping. My dad was in the National Guard and every summer for two weeks my big family camped near his military camp: Plenty of hilarity, there. I brought the essay and four picture book projects to my first SCBWI Conference in September, 2003, and read it in the peer critiques session.  I’m forever in debt to Debbie Taylor, Shanda Trent and Vicky Lorencen, three brilliant writers who pegged it as a beginning to a funny middle grade novel. I put it away because I was concentrating on picture books, not novels.

Eighteen months later I came home from my first national SCBWI Winter Conference a little disappointed that nobody discovered me and that I apparently still had a long way to go before I was “ready”. I’d sketched the conference, and I put all 180 pages on my website. (It’s still there.) I sent the link around a little and was INUNDATED with emails – an avalanche! — urging me to do a kids’ book in that style. Mary Siddals (Compost Stew) in particular pushed me. I pushed back, tired of failing in comic strips, rubberstamping, advertising, portraiture: Trust me, nobody wanted my cartoony work.

I was wrong, Mary was right. I tried writing and illustrating in that sketchy style. I used the summer camp idea (but didn’t reread the essay) and the ideas just flowed! It worked! Three weeks later I had a 100-page illustrated manuscript and an agent. But I had no idea there were other similar books, like Amelia’s 6th Grade Journal and Diary of a Wimpy Kid (which came out a month before Ellie). And I didn’t know my book would be a series until my editor asked about making Ben-Ben Ellie’s brother instead of her cousin, “so he could be in future books.”

I’d love to know more about the way you write and illustrate your books—do you wait until the words are perfect before working on the illustrations, or do you sketch as you create the text?

If I waited for the words to be perfect I’d still be waiting. :) I just do my best and hope the mistakes get caught. It’s easiest for me to write and illustrate at the same time – I’ve been doing that since I was 15. But it’s smarter to finish the text, get it to its best, and then start the art. That’s what I’d advise to other author-illustrators. It’s also faster, because then you’re not tweaking both the writing and the art endlessly.

How long does it usually take you to write and illustrate a book?

I’m getting faster at it, out of necessity; the publisher keeps compressing the deadlines into less time (which is okay with me. I love a good challenge). The book I’m doing right now, Ellie McDoodle: Most Valuable Player, will have taken about eight months when it’s done, but of course there is a lot of down time in there – whole months where I was waiting to hear back. So, actual time: Four months so far, and maybe six total.

What advice do you have for kids or adults who are interested in writing or illustrating a book?

Start a journal. Join SCBWI and mingle with your fellow creatives. Read at least a hundred books in your genre, and read everything else, too. Write as often as you can. Don’t try for perfection – just do your best. Persist in the face of obstacles. Laugh at danger and rejections. Don’t quit your day job. Buy low, sell high.

Do you have a fun writing and illustrating exercise to share with us?

Yes! Check out this picture:

I drew this in my sketchjournal (on page 89) when I was 16. What’s significant here is that this sort of picture can demonstrate Art Literacy in action.

When you get stuck while creating, or when you want to write a new story, or if you’re a teacher and want to assign writing with richer results, start with a character.  Draw the character and add personality traits as callouts. Then write.  I do this with all of my school visit audiences and it’s great fun.

What the kids don’t know is that by drawing first, you create richer writing – that’s Art Literacy, defined.  And what some writers might not know is, when you’re stuck in a scene and don’t know what comes next, drawing the scene – even with stick figures! – might inspire a solution.

Are any of your characters based on real people?

Almost all are! Usually it’s two people plus me. My worst traits show up in my characters. Ellie’s cousin Deanna was originally going to be her main nemesis in book 1. Deanna’s based on both a relative and a girl in high school who gave me nightmares. Funny thing, though: I added my own faults to the mix and Deanna became a more interesting character. That high school girl? If I met her today I’d probably thank her.


The weirdest thing about having a large stable of characters is you sometimes meet their real-life incarnation. Ellie is based on me and my three daughters. But once last year I saw a real life Ellie McDoodle on the volleyball court at my daughter’s middle school game in East Lansing. I swear, the girl looked precisely like Ellie. My family talked me out of approaching the girl or giving her a note. It was probably a good thing since I pride myself in not yet being named on anybody’s restraining order.

Can you give us a glimpse of what the future holds for you and Ellie McDoodle?

Sketch for book 4, Ellie McDoodle: Most Valuable Player

Ellie McDoodle: Most Valuable Player comes out next spring (I hope). It’s all about sports and competition and academic games. I’m waiting to hear back on the revisions, and then I’ll ink in the art and tweak the writing and hope it’s good. I’m not a good judge of my own work.

My wish list (dare I hope?): A movie, a PBS kids’ show, dolls, a journal in every hand, a long list of Ellie McDoodle books, respect from smart people. I’d like to write and illustrate many more books, and I want them to always improve from the book I did last.  More than all of that, though, I just want to stay busy doing something worthwhile. On my deathbed, I want to be drawing cartoons in a sketchjournal.

Here are two more rough sketches from the upcoming Ellie McDoodle: Most Valuable Player.

Hop on over to Ruth’s website to discover more about her books, fun freebies, and teaching guides.  And here’s a great video of Ruth teaching a cartoon workshop.

Thank you so much for taking the time to chat and for sharing your wonderful sketches, Ruth. I can’t wait to read Ellie McDoodle: Most Valuable Player in Spring 2012!

Want to be entered in an extra-special giveaway?  TWO lucky winners will receive a personalized Ellie book of their choice…and Ruth has offered to add some surprise sketches in the books!  Leave a comment below and our random generator will choose two lucky winners on Thursday, February 24th.  You’ll get extra entries for sharing a link on your blog, Facebook, Twitter, or if you click the ‘Follow this blog’ button in Networked Blogs on the lower right side of our site.

***Please mention each link in a new comment so the generator will add your extra entries.  Winners must live in the US or Canada.  Good luck!

If you have any questions for Ruth, please leave them in the comments.  She’d love to answer them for you.  What a great opportunity–thanks again for everything, Ruth!

Mindy Alyse Weiss writes humorous middle-grade novels and is constantly inspired by her ten and thirteen year-old daughters, adventurous sock and underwear munching puppy, and two stinky but adorable ferrets. Visit her blog to read more about her writing life, conference experiences, and writing tips.

43 Comments

41 Comments

  1. Mary Ann  •  Feb 18, 2011 @8:07 am

    Oh how fun! My newly-minted 10-year-old will love these! That is exactly how she responds to the world—through drawing.

    You’re on the blog and twitter, too!

    Mindy Alyse Weiss Reply:

    @Mary Ann, Thanks Mary Ann! It’s great that your daughter draws to respond to the world. I hope you keep all her drawings in a special place (all my journals disappeared through the years, and I would’ve loved to have them now).

    Can you quickly add two posts that say something like ‘you’re on my blog’ and ‘I tweeted’, so we can make sure you’re entered three times? Good luck. :)

    Mary Ann Reply:

    @Mindy Alyse Weiss,
    Dang! I was AWOL for a bit and missed this request. Oh well…

  2. Kim  •  Feb 18, 2011 @8:10 am

    Thank you so much for sharing! I’m always on the lookout for books that blur the lines between graphic novels and text, since I have several patrons who love that style, and a child at home who loves it as well.

  3. Amie Borst  •  Feb 18, 2011 @8:37 am

    this was an excellent interview mindy! it’s obvious a lot of effort and time went into it! and thanks so much to Ruth for joining us here at the Mixed-Up Files!

    the only bummer? i can’t enter the contest!

    good luck to the other entrants though!

  4. Jodi Moore  •  Feb 18, 2011 @9:33 am

    What a great interview! LOVE “drawing” on Ruth McNally Barshaw’s expertise! Thanks to the both of you for sharing.

  5. Wendy Shang  •  Feb 18, 2011 @9:33 am

    What a great interview – so inspirational. Loved the idea of getting kids to draw first to enhance their writing. And the books look fantastic! We’re definitely getting copies for our house!

  6. Deb Marshall  •  Feb 18, 2011 @10:08 am

    This book just came into the bookstore-so, so looking forward to reading it and sharing it with kids. AND–will take that writing and illustrating exercise into my next book club meeting (have a few aspiring writers who I think would love it, me too :), as well. Thanks Ruth and Mindy!

  7. Deb Marshall  •  Feb 18, 2011 @10:10 am

    I tweeted :

    http://twitter.com/?status=Interview%20with%20Ruth%20McNally%20Barshaw%20and%20Two%20Giveaways%20|%20From%20the%20Mixed-Up%20Files…%20-%20http://goo.gl/qSGo8#!/debamarshall/status/38631168698093568

    Thanks!

  8. Deb Marshall  •  Feb 18, 2011 @10:12 am
  9. Deb Marshall  •  Feb 18, 2011 @10:15 am

    Aaaand I facebooked :

    http://www.facebook.com/debmarshall

    Aaaand I’m done, lol. Thanks again! (really looking forward to trying out that exercise.)

  10. angela ackerman  •  Feb 18, 2011 @10:17 am

    Wow, what a story. Good for you! I am so glad you kept at it! And hooray for encouragement from other writers/illustrators! We all owe so much to the people around us.

    Wishing you much succcess,

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

  11. Katie Schneider  •  Feb 18, 2011 @10:40 am

    Thanks for introducing me to a new author. My drawing-mad daughter will enjoy these books. I’m glad someone else has walked away from a writing conference discouraged, only to bounce back and find success. It shows it can be done!

  12. Yolanda Ridge  •  Feb 18, 2011 @11:41 am

    Great interview, very inspiring. I’m not an illustrator but I love Ruth’s idea of drawing out scenes and characters to help with the writing process (as long as no one ever sees mine!) Looking forward to reading more Ellie McDoodle. Thank you Ruth and Mindy!

  13. Karen Schwartz  •  Feb 18, 2011 @12:12 pm

    ohmygosh, what a fun and funny interview. I love the idea of drawing characters or scenes when you’re stuck. Mine would certainly be stick figures but I could definitely see that jogging the brain in a different way.

  14. Liz Straw  •  Feb 18, 2011 @12:41 pm

    I have searched the library shelves for this series. Alas, no luck. Love to enter the race!

  15. Liz Straw  •  Feb 18, 2011 @12:45 pm

    Blogged about the interview on my blog. Uh, where else would you blog about it?

    http://lizstrawwrites.com

  16. Caroline Starr Rose  •  Feb 18, 2011 @12:58 pm

    Hey, Ruth! I don’t know if you remember me, but I was a part of SCBWI-MI from 2004-2007, and we talked a few times, mainly about your amazing portfolio (always my favorite artwork by far).

    My niece, Amanda, was one of your girl scouts.

    I still have an Ellie McDoodle pencil that must be five or six years old by now (great way to advertise — some pencils get chewed up immediately at the school sharpener, but many go into a family cup, get passed around, and last forever).

  17. Erin Edwards  •  Feb 18, 2011 @1:33 pm

    I found your blog through Cynsations mention of your interview with Alyssa Henkin and I’m so glad I started reading more!

    My girls love-love-love the Ellie books. I mean, for my oldest daughter it is a book-to-curl-up-in-bed-with-and-forget-a-bad-day book! I was also lucky to get to meet Ruth at an SCBWI-NY conference.

    So, now for my chance to be a bestower of wish fulfillment! :) Ruth, you asked for “respect from smart people.” I respect you and I’ve got a PhD in plant biology. Does that count? I hope that is the start of checking off many more from that list!

  18. Larissa Hardesty  •  Feb 18, 2011 @1:34 pm

    Yay! My daughter would LOVE these books! :)

  19. Cathe Olson  •  Feb 18, 2011 @2:58 pm

    I’m excited about your new series — my students love illustrated journal-type books. Yours sounds really fun!

  20. Olugbemisola  •  Feb 18, 2011 @3:50 pm

    LOVE this interview! Thank you. Many cheers for art literacy. Even though I can’t draw *at all*, that was how I wrote for much of my childhood, starting with sketches and character “notes”, and now I tell students to do the same, and they really get into it.

  21. Joanne Rocklin  •  Feb 18, 2011 @4:25 pm

    A great interview, and honest, sensitive, inspiring answers from Ruth! Can’t wait to meet Ellie (and Ruth, too, one day…)

  22. Boni Ashburn  •  Feb 18, 2011 @4:41 pm

    Great interview, Mindy and Ruth! I can’t WAIT for Most Valuable Player :)

  23. Leah Boulet  •  Feb 18, 2011 @5:22 pm

    What a great interview. I am going to check out Ruth’s website right away. Thanks for your inspiring tips.

  24. Laura Resau  •  Feb 18, 2011 @5:22 pm

    Great interview with a great lady!!!

  25. Marsha Ratzel  •  Feb 18, 2011 @7:07 pm

    What a wonderful story of inspiration to any of us that aspire to do something we love and aren’t sure how to proceed…and also that you didn’t quit despite being discouraged. Many people can relate to that feeling.

    I love the playfulness and realness of these sketches/drawings. Thanks for using your skills for good and I’m hoping that I’ll get my name picked.

  26. Marsha Ratzel  •  Feb 18, 2011 @7:08 pm

    I just tweeted all about this marvelous interview. now off to Facebook.

    marsha

  27. Marsha Ratzel  •  Feb 18, 2011 @7:10 pm

    Now I’ve FBed.

  28. Barbara Bosworth  •  Feb 18, 2011 @8:13 pm

    Thank you for the wonderful interview! I can’t wait to read the Ellie books and share with children at my school. (I am doing teacher research on reluctant readers. I am seeing that graphic novels and illustrated books, such as yours are a great ‘bridge to literacy’ for some of our most reluctant readers.
    I also want to share with teachers at my school about drawing first to create richer writing, or developing a character through drawing. Thank you again!

  29. Cynthia Levinson  •  Feb 18, 2011 @10:00 pm

    This is a seriously wonderful interview!

  30. Mindy Alyse Weiss  •  Feb 18, 2011 @11:56 pm

    Thanks, everyone! I had so much fun interviewing Ruth, that I’ve asked her to come back to the Mixed-Up Files for my May post. I can’t wait to share more of her secrets, tips, and list of books that inspired her to become an author/illustrator.

  31. AZ  •  Feb 19, 2011 @3:54 am

    We’ve got the first Ellie book and can’t wait to see more! Thanks for the super interview.

    zenzart at hotmail dot com

  32. Natalie Aguirre  •  Feb 19, 2011 @6:42 am

    Great interview Ruth. It’s so interesting to read how you started writing this series. And I remember the SCBWI conference when you were signing your first book. It was so awesome. Good luck with the new one.

  33. Sheela Chari  •  Feb 19, 2011 @7:48 am

    Excellent interview, Mindy and Ruth! Wow, reading that section on art literacy really made a lightbulb go off in my head. There have been a few times, now that I think of it, when I was stuck with a scene and/or a character’s motivation, and I actually DID draw out the characters in my notebook. At the time I thought of it more as doodling, but the process did really help to open up my mind and think of the character in a different way. I will try sketching more often now and see how that goes.

    I loved those SCBWI conference sketches btw! :)

  34. Pragmatic Mom  •  Feb 19, 2011 @8:27 am

    Thanks so much for the post; loved it. I’d love to win for my 11-year-old who might want to be an illustrator when she grows up. She’s already announced that she wants to go to RISD.

  35. Laurie Schneider  •  Feb 19, 2011 @6:29 pm

    Thank you, Ruth and Mindy! This was so inspiring. I can’t wait to try sketching my characters and scenes.

  36. Liana  •  Feb 20, 2011 @2:40 am

    Wonderful, engaging interview. Loved the story about how writing and drawing all worked out!

  37. Sara Zoe  •  Feb 20, 2011 @7:55 am

    My students love these books! And I love that they are both fun and smart – great quality! Thanks for writing them, and thanks for the chance at the fun giveaway!

  38. Linda Andersen  •  Feb 20, 2011 @2:59 pm

    Mindy,

    This was such an interesting post. Thank goodness Ruth didn’t give up on her “cartoony work.” Mindy, I love that you have giveaways.

  39. Ruth McNally Barshaw  •  Feb 21, 2011 @12:33 am

    Goodness. Thank you. What kind comments!
    Caroline — I remember talking with you but I don’t remember knowing that Amanda was your niece. She was adorable, one of my favorites. And I saw Becky while giving blood a couple months ago.
    Erin, I knew you were brilliant, but a PhD? Holy cow. Congratulations! And thank you for granting my wish. :)
    Gbemi — you’re an inspiration with your creativity.
    Marsha — the more people I meet in this business, the more I realize that fear and obstacles and discouragement are a universal part of the process. Persistence is what matters.
    Barbara, thanks so much for helping reluctant readers and for spreading ideas that work to other teachers. One of the reluctant reader stories that touched me most was hearing about a 14-year old boy who’s an Ellie McDoodle fan. He’s far outside the targeted audience and I’m honored he found my books worth re-reading.
    Sheela — you are proof that art literacy works. :)
    Pragmatic Mom — your daughter has a huge advantage with a mother who supports her dreams. Best wishes to her (even though she’s my future competition) ;)
    Thank you all, very much.

  40. mb baron  •  Feb 21, 2011 @10:00 am

    I have a 12 year old neice that is a super talented artist. Right now she is bent on fashion design… but when she grows up and realizes how feisty the fashion industry can be, I want her to know that art is in everything. Your story is a great example on how not to lose your dream- just change your stream! Thanks, if I don’t win, I’m still sending your books to her.

    mbb

  41. Meg Garber  •  Feb 28, 2011 @1:54 pm

    Thanks for this good information and interview. I want to purchase it for my library (if I don’t get the give-away:).